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Founded1971; 52 years ago (1971)
  • Phil Berry
  • Fred Fisher
  • Don Harris
Type501(c)(3) non-profit
FocusEnvironmentalism, Public health
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California, United States
Area served
Within the United States and internationally
Abigail Dillen[1]
Approx. 300[2]
Formerly called
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund; Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund

Earthjustice (originally Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) is a nonprofit public interest organization based in the United States dedicated to litigating environmental issues. Headquartered in San Francisco, it has 14 regional offices across the United States, an international program, a communications team, and a policy & legislation team in Washington, DC.[3]


The organization was founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, though it was fully independent from the Sierra Club. It changed its name to Earthjustice in 1997 to better reflect its role as a legal advocate representing hundreds of regional, national and international organizations. As of September 2018, the group has provided free legal representation to more than 1,000 clients ranging from the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and the American Lung Association to smaller state and community groups, such as the Maine Lobstermen's Association and the Friends of the Everglades.[4]

Earthjustice is a nonprofit and does not charge any of its clients for its services. Funding for the organization comes from individual donations and foundations. It does not receive any funding from corporations or governments. In 2021, Earthjustice had $154 million in total revenue and $100 million in total expenditures.[5] As of 2021, Earthjustice has full-time staff of about 170 attorneys[6] in 14 offices across the United States, and 14 public-interest lobbyists[7] based in Washington, D.C.. They are involved in 630 active legal proceedings.[8] The current president of Earthjustice is Abigail Dillen,[9] an environmental attorney who first joined Earthjustice in 2000 and was previously Vice President of Litigation for Climate and Energy.[10][11]


Earthjustice's work is divided into three key goal areas:[8]

  • The Wild – focuses on cases in The Arctic to preserve the ecosystem from climate change and fossil fuel drilling; in the ocean ecosystem to protect from overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss; in the wild to preserve wild places and support biodiversity; and cases related to saving wildlife from extinction that are threatened by clear cutting, oil drilling, dams, dewatering streams, and climate change.[12]
  • Healthy Communities – focuses on cases at the regional and national level that protect against pollution and toxic chemicals. Earthjustice uses litigation to apply and enforce the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts, and reform the toxics regulatory system.[13]
  • Clean Energy and a Stable Climate – focuses on cases that reduce the utilization of fossil fuels, eliminate barriers to and create incentives for the use of renewable energy sources (such as through the Right To Zero campaign[14]), and cases that promote ecological resiliency to withstand warming global temperatures. Through litigation, Earthjustice establishes and enforces national regulation for coal ash waste, retires old coal-fired power plants, prevents coal exports, and stops coal mining. Cases in this key area also focus on preventing fracking, preventing oil and gas drilling on public lands, strengthening environmental and health protections, and preventing fossil fuel infrastructure investments.

Earthjustice also partners with organizations from other regions, including Latin America, Russia, Japan, and China to promote the development of environmental law in their respective countries. Every year, Earthjustice submits a country-by-country report on Human Rights and the Environment to the United Nations.[15]

Impact on U.S. environmental law[edit]

Earthjustice has been a critical player in a number of important, precedent-setting cases regarding environmental protection in the United States.

In the 1972 Supreme Court case Sierra Club v. Morton, Earthjustice (then known as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) helped establish the right of citizens to sue for environmental damages. The case ultimately forced the Walt Disney Corporation to drop its plans to develop an enormous ski resort in the Mineral King valley in California's Sierra Nevada Range. The lawsuit blocked any further development or private use of the land which has since been incorporated into the Sequoia National Park.[16]

In 1993, the organization (still then known as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) filed a lawsuit to block the development of the New World gold-silver-copper mine that was planned to be sited about four miles from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The lawsuit was a victory in that the district judge ruled that not only could the subsidiary mining company (in this case Crown Butte Mines, Inc., a Montana company) who holds the mining claims and is developing the mine plan, but even the parent corporation (in this case Noranda Corporation, a Canadian company), could be held liable for violations of the Federal Clean Water Act (Ekey, 1997).[17]

In 1998, Earthjustice helped local community groups convince the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw an approval to construct a uranium enrichment plant between two low-income, predominantly African-American communities near Homer, Louisiana. It was the first time a government agency had formally embraced the principle of 'environmental justice" in its decision-making.[18]

In the 2006 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, Earthjustice attorneys helped a coalition of state governments and conservation groups force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fight global warming by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. It was the first Supreme Court case to ever address the issue of climate change.[19]

Other suits have been less successful:

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the US Navy in a suit brought in part by Earthjustice, which ordered Navy personnel to stop the use of certain types of sonar if a marine mammal such as a dolphin or whale was sighted within 2,200 yards. Among other details, the court noted that in 40 years of such sonar training there had not been a documented case of injury or death to a marine mammal that could be directly attributed to the sonar.[20]

In 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a suit against the EPA with the goal of banning the pesticide Chlorpyrifos. The court ruled that an environmental coalition, including Earthjustice, failed to follow procedure by filing the suit with the court before filing their appeal of a 2007 EPA ruling allowing the pesticide.[21][22] However, on August 9, 2018, the court ruled that chlorpyrifos must be banned within 60 days from that date[23]

Legislative positions[edit]


In 2010, Earthjustice launched a fundraising campaign using the location-based social networking app Foursquare. The ad campaign, which ran in billboards in San Francisco's BART system, gained national recognition as one of the first successful nonprofit uses of Foursquare, and was featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, Mashable, and MacLife magazine, as well as books such as Carmine Gallo's The Power of Foursquare.[26][27][28][29]


In 2001, Worth magazine, aimed at high-income Americans, named Earthjustice as one of America's 100 best charities.[30]

Since April 1, 2009, Charity Navigator has given Earthjustice 4 stars, the oversight group's highest rating.[31]

In December 2014, the organization was recognized for its tagline "Because the earth needs a good lawyer",[32] which was chosen in a 2009 online contest as one of the best nonprofit taglines out of 1,702 entries.[citation needed]

Earthjustice has come under criticism for actions that are described as radical or counterproductive. Kevin Mooney of the right-leaning Capital Research Center writes that Earthjustice has represented a wide range of clients and causes, ranging from those well within the political and scientific mainstream to "radical fringe groups with a reputation for outrageous claims and uncompromising positions."[33] Similarly, Fargo, North Dakota, columnist Rob Port has described Earthjustice as fundamentally "obstructionist" in their strategy against the Dakota Access Pipeline during 2016.[34]

See also[edit]


  • Tom Turner, with photographs by Carr Clifton, Wild by Law: The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and the Places It Has Saved (San Francisco: Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and Sierra Club Books, 1990) ISBN 0-87156-627-3
  • Tom Turner, Justice on Earth: Earthjustice and the People It Has Served (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2002) ISBN 1-931498-31-8


  1. ^ "New Earthjustice Prez's Game Plan". Law360. 2 July 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  2. ^ Our Team
  3. ^ "Offices". 25 October 2019.
  4. ^ Earthjustice Clients and Coalitions
  5. ^ Earthjustice Financial Statements
  6. ^ Earthjustice litigation staff
  7. ^ Earthjustice Policy & Legislation staff
  8. ^ a b Earthjustice: Our Work
  9. ^ Earthjustice Names Abigail Dillen as New President
  10. ^ "Abigail Dillen". Earthjustice. 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2021-05-17.
  11. ^ "People: Dillen named new president of Earthjustice." InsideEPA. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  12. ^ "The Wild [node:field-marquee-collection:field_marquee_header_second]". 2 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Healthy Communities". 9 December 2013.
  14. ^ Earthjustice: Right To Zero
  15. ^ Earthjustice International Program
  16. ^ Finally -- The Valley of Mineral King Becomes Wilderness Archived 2010-08-15 at the Wayback Machine, EarthJustice
  17. ^ Ekey, Bob (1997). "The New World Agreement: A Call for Reform of the 1872 Mining Law". Public Land and Resources Law Review, Volume 18. Archived from the original on 2020-03-18. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  18. ^ Earthjustice: Uranium Enrichment Plant Stopped Archived 2008-12-12 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Earthjustice: Massachusetts v. EPA
  20. ^ Winter vs. National Resources Defense Council No. 07–1239., October term, 2008
  21. ^ Timothy Cama (2017) Court rejects greens’ appeal of EPA decision not to ban pesticide,; accessed 08 December 2017
  22. ^ Jessica Domel Judge denies petition to ban chlorpyrifos pesticide, Texas Farm Bureau, 19 July 2017; accessed 08 December 2017
  23. ^ "What Is the Insecticide Chlorpyrifos?". Environment. 2018-08-10. Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  24. ^ "CBO - H.R. 2279". Congressional Budget Office. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  25. ^ "House Subcommittee Votes Increase Coal Ash Exposure, Threaten Public Health". Earthjustice. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  26. ^ Woody, Todd (19 October 2010). "With Foursquare, Ads Let You Check In at Your Favorite Billboard". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  27. ^ Van, Jennifer (27 May 2010). "Non-Profit Uses Foursquare to Raise Environmental Awareness". Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  28. ^ Delio, Michelle (January 2011). "iGIVE". MacLife. p. 16. Available via SlideShare. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  29. ^ "The Power of foursquare". Gallo Communications. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  30. ^ "WORTH Magazine Names America's 100 Best Charities - and Highlights 12 Worth Avoidng". Business Wire. 29 November 2001. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  31. ^ "Charity Navigator - Historical Ratings for Earthjustice". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  32. ^ Fritz, Joanne (6 December 2014). "Nonprofit Taglines and Mission Statements". Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  33. ^ Kevin Mooney (2009). EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund: How Environmentalism Weakens U.S. National Security; accessed 08 December 2017
  34. ^ "Earthjustice isn't out to promote safe, responsible oil and gas development, goals all reasonable people share. They don't want a safe pipeline, per se. Rather, they're out to choke oil and gas development to death by obstructing energy infrastructure with legal maneuvering." Port, Rob (2016). Standing Rock Tribe Should Ditch Earthjustice if They Want Pipeline Lawsuit Taken Seriously, accessed 08 December 2017

External links[edit]